Read Just a Little Promise Online

Authors: Tracie Puckett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary

Just a Little Promise (4 page)

BOOK: Just a Little Promise
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“Stop it!” he said, digging his fingers into my shoulder
s
as he shook me relentlessly. “I

never

hurt

my

son!”

“Lonnie, no!”
Grace said,
darting
forward to put herself between me and her husband.

I stood staring at both of them, undoubtedly a mess.
I rubbed my shoulders where Lonnie had grabbed me, doing my best to keep tears
from
my eyes.
My hair was disheveled, my clothes wrinkled and creased. I’d provoked him. I
saw
the look in his eyes… the one I’m certain Luke saw on the night that Lonnie struck
him
.

Lonnie’s eyes welled up with tears as Grace stepped forward to examine my arms. I shrugged her away and took a step back. And just as I turned to leave the diner, a
police siren bleep
ed
outside on the curb.

I glanced at the waitress, who clung to the telephone receiver, and then back at the Reibecks.

The bell over the door rang, and Charlie
rushed
in
. His face w
as red and twisted as he stared between me, Lonnie, and Grace.
He nodded at the waitress, who’d obviously called him in, and then turned back to me.

“Get outside,” he said, pointing back to the car.
“Now.”

I walked
pas
t
him and reached the door
as he nodded at Grace and Lonnie. “Sorry for
the
disturbance. I assure you she won’t be bothering you
r family
again.”

Chapter Four

Saturday December 15

There wasn’t much solace to be found in a 6x8 holding cell.

As I slouched further down the wooden bench,
I r
ested my head against the cold
,
brick wall.
I couldn’t stop thinking about
Lonnie
. I couldn’t believe I’d let myself cross that line.
I betrayed Luke.
I
’d
told
Lonnie
.
The one thing
Luke had
specifically
said is that he didn’t want
his father
to find out why he’d really left. He didn’t want to hurt
him
. And I screwed
it
up.

I could only imagine what he would say when he found out.

Dammit Julie
,
I could hear him
yell. He’d twist his face in anger and hold a breath, biting his tongue so as not to say exactly what was on his mind.
Can’t you mind your own damn business?

But this
was
my business…
somehow

.
All I could do now was pray that he would understand. He had to… what’s
done is done. I couldn’t go back. And
Lonnie needed to know why Luke resented him. They needed an icebreaker, and I was okay being the buffer. Maybe now they could talk, let bygones be bygones.

“Julie.”

Luke’s voice
resonated
. I hung my
head lower;
I couldn’t face him. Not like this. I could only imagine what he
was about to say.

“Julie,” he said again, his voice softer than before. I finally looked up to meet his gaze. He rested his forehead against the
opposite side of the steel
bars. He wore a grin—and
wore it well
—and then looked away to suppress a laugh. A moment later, he turned back and looked
down at me
.
“Whatcha doin’ in there, kid?”

“Thinking about what I’ve done,” I said, mocking Charlie.

When he’d shoved me into the jail cell—slamming it and locking it behind me—he’d
promised that I wouldn’t be allowed out until I agreed to apologize to Lonnie Reibeck for
publicly
humiliating him
. Apparently I was supposed to be learning some kind of lesson as I sat and thought about
my actions.

Luke sidestepped to the door, inserting a rusted key, and turning the lock. He pushed the door open and motioned for me to come out.

“I ca
n’t,” I said. “Charlie’ll freak—”

“Okay,” he said, coming inside. He shut the door behind him, latching it at the same time, and joined me on the bench. “
So,” he
said,
a little rasp in his voice.

Whatcha in for?”

“Disturbance of the peace.”

“You guilty?”

“Of course,” I said. “How’d you know I was here?”

“Bruno called,” he said. “He couldn’t quit laughing. Said I had to come down and see it for myself.”


Lovely
,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“So,” he said
, still trying not to laugh
. “What exactly did you do?”

“I caused a scene at the diner.”

“Yeah?” he asked. “
You want to elaborate on that
?”

I closed my eyes for a minute and then opened them slowly. I watched Luke, studying the sadness in his eyes. He was calm now, but
it was clear he hadn’t heard what happened… and I didn’t want to be the
one to tell him.
Because the moment
he learned what
I’d done, he’d be angry. He’d leave.

“I don’t wanna
tell you.”

I looked away, but Luke leaned forward to steal my gaze.

“Why not?”

“You’ll leave,” I said, knowing there was more truth in that than anything. “You’ve mastered the art of running, Luke. And when I tell you… when you find out what I did….”

“Julie,” he said, taking my hand. “What happened after I left the diner?”

I lowered my head, refusing to say anything. When five slow minutes passed and neither of
us
exchanged another word, Luke dropped my hand and stood up.

“See?” I said. “I haven’t even told you
yet
and you’re leaving.”

He walked to the door. He reached into his pocket, pulled the key from inside, and threw it through the bars. The key slid at least ten feet down the hallway—far from reach.

Now he’d done it. He’d locked himself in the jail cell with no way out.

He turned back to me and shrugged. “I’m not going anywhere, Julie. Now tell me what happened.”

I spent the next fifteen minutes reliving the conversation I’d had with Lonnie in the diner. I told him every detail that I could remember—except for the moment when Lonnie grabbed me. I didn’t see any point in adding fuel to the fire. Luke was already mad. If he found out that
Lonnie had touched me… well, any plan he’d had to make up with his father would cease to exist.

At this point, Luke was still standing. He leaned his back against the bars and watched me in silence.

“I’m sorry,” I said for the hundredth time. “I know you didn’t want him to know
the
truth, a
nd I never meant to tell him. But I couldn’t stop talking. I was so angry. So... hurt. I couldn’t let him sit there and act like your life didn’t matter. He owes you an apol
ogy, Luke. He owes you so much—”

“Julie,” he said, holding his hand in the air to silence me. “It’s okay.”

I blinked repeatedly for a few, long seconds. “It is?”

“Do I wish you’d respected my wish and let me deal with it on my own terms? Yes.” He
pushed
his fingers
back
through his hair and then
stepped away from
the bars. He walked
over and squatted in front of me, taking my hands.
“But if the tables had been turned, I probably would
’ve
done the same thing, kid.”


Really
?”
I asked, relieved that he wasn’t yelling at me or scolding me for not minding my own business.
Instead, he was holding my hands, caressing my fingers, and looking at me with nothing but love.

He finally pulled himself up and sat back on the bench next to me.
I
leaned over and
rested my head in his lap, staring out at the opposite wall. He combed his fingers through my hair. The soft stroke of his hand calmed my nerves. My heart found a rhythmic balance for the first time
since he held me at the Fall Ball
. My breathing finally steadied. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the touch of his legs beneath my cheek and his fingers in my hair.

And I don’t know how long we sat there, neither one of us speaking, but it must’ve been a while. Because before I knew it, Charlie was nudging me awake.

Sunday December 16

Luke was gone by the time Charlie
retrieved me from the holding cell
. I don’t know how he slipped away without waking me, or how he got out without a key, but he was definitely gone.
My guess was that Detective Bruno helped him escape, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d missed it. Either way, I w
as glad
he wasn’t there
. There was no telling how Charlie would
’ve
reacted to finding me and Luke locked in the same cell together.

Now, a day later, I hadn’t heard from Luke. It seemed like things were back to normal again.

No calls.

No texts.

No Luke.

A
pple cinnamon candles were burning all around the house; it was my mom’s favorite scent this time of year. And sin
ce the anniversary of my parent
s

death was approaching
quick
ly, I’d been feeling very nostalgic as the days went on.


It’s
okay, Julie. It takes a few times to get it right,” Matt said, placating me. I doubted
it ever took him more than one time
to master anything
in the kitchen
. But the first time I pulled mom’s secret recipe holiday cookies out
of the oven
, they were beyond saving. The
bottoms were
burnt black, but the top
s were
doughy and uncooked.


I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, Matty,” I said, dumping the cookies into the garbage
. “Mom never ruined a batch
—”

“Let me help you,” he said, coming over to my side of the counter.

“No,” I said, reaching for the flour and sugar. “I have to do this.”

I stared at the recipe for another minute. It amazed me how much I hated baking. Mom always loved being in the kitchen; she and Matt loved each other’s co
mpany during the holidays. She wouldn’t
want to see
me fretting over something so simple. She’d want
someone enjoying her recipes as much as she did, so I nodded and looked to my cousin.

“You do it.”

I pushed the r
ecipe across the counter until it
stopped in front of Matt.


I thought you wanted to—”

“This is your area of expertise,” I said. “
I’ll just keep wasting ingredients
until I get it right, and God knows that could be forever.”

“Really?” he asked, flipping through
the
handwritten cookbook.

“It’s all yours,” I said. “Honestly, I have no use for it.”

Matt’s face lit up. He presse
d an
obligatory kiss to my cheek and darted toward the refrigerator for eggs.

I left the kitchen, shaking my head. I passed Charlie in the living room and nodded, but didn’t say a word as I headed for the front door.

“Where are you going?”

I stopped, already holding the door knob in my hand, and turned back.

“To see Derek,” I said. “He’s been in a bit of a funk lately. I just want to make sure he’s okay.
I really think we could use each other’s company right about now.

Not much more than a year ago, his father committed a terrible crime that robbed me of both my parents. That night, we both became victims. It just seemed natural to be with someone who truly understood that pain. “So, if it’s okay?”

Charlie nodded and looked back at his paper.

A short walk across the lawn later,
I was standing on Derek’s front porch, knocking away.
I waited in silence for two full minutes.

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